By Chris Brennaman, Class of 1997
I graduated from Mount De Sales in the spring of 1997. Despite having spent four great years as a student there, after graduation I never went back to campus. I never attended any reunions. I never attended socials for MDS alumni.
Nothing. In fact, for the longest time I was listed on the school website under “Lost Alumni.” I never really felt compelled to stay connected. I kept up with the people I wanted to keep up with and that was enough for me.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at the school’s annual Career Day. I accepted, and for the first time in two decades, I returned to Mount de Sales Academy.
Here are five things I learned by the time that day was over:
1. Everything Is So Different Now
Even though I was aware that the school had changed, in my head I still pictured the same campus that existed back in the halcyon days of the 1990s. The first indication I got that things were different was when I saw that the front steps were no longer in front of the school.
Then I stepped onto campus…
The Trapezoid where I spent every single lunch period and free period with my friends was gone as was the old senior parking lot in front of McAuley Hall. The middle school had been moved. Science labs had been outfitted with the latest equipment. Even the “New Building” had finally gotten a proper name.
As a former drama nerd, my biggest shock was the David J. Zuver Performing Arts Center. When I was at MDS, The Troubadours performed on a shoddy stage in the, ahem, “cafetorium.” So imagine my awe when I saw where today’s Troubadours get to perform.
But the most shocking change? Students actually get to use the restroom inside the library. Today’s students truly are living in a golden age.
2. Actually, Everything Isn’t Really All That Different
But then again, nothing had really changed all that much, either.
Sheridan Hall (the aforementioned New Building) still smelled exactly the same as I remembered. My old locker was still where I left it and despite having more top-of-the-line technology, even the library felt and looked mostly the same.
I was unprepared for just how familiar everything still felt, even after twenty years. I felt what seemed like a surge of electricity as I stood outside of the classroom where Mr. Kevin Dockrell helped create spiritual yet critical thinkers. I felt a sense of conviction next to the classroom where Mr. Joe Landrum made every single one of his “Philosophy and Peace Through Justice” students defend every moral and ethical stance they had.
As I walked past the science lab in Mercy Hall, I felt a sense of pride in having never been busted for setting off a stink bomb back in 1994. I laid my hand on a locker in Sheridan Hall that used to belong to a girl named Tiffany Domingos, who would one day be my wife.
Until Career Day, I never realized how much sentimental attachment these buildings held for me. I made life-long connections in these halls, forged bonds in their classrooms. Some of the sites may have changed, some of the buildings brand new, but that campus still felt exactly like it did back in 1997.
3. High School Students Are Much Smarter Than Most Adults Give Them Credit For
The older we get all of us tend to forget how intelligent teenagers are. Like us, they’re complicated, often conflicted people with hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties.
I remembered this right before I was set to speak at my first career day session. So I made the decision to ditch the motivational “follow your dreams you can be anything” route in favor of a more honest and direct approach.
Sure, I gave a quick rundown of my career as a writer, how I fell into that career. But that was about it. Instead, I told them it’s OK to not know what lies ahead, to not be sure what you want to do in life. More importantly, I told them that it’s OK to make changes at any point to the plans we make today.
I explained that for way too long I felt obligated to see through an 18-year-old kid’s idea of what success looks like. Even when it became clear that my path in life was veering in a different direction, I still felt like I had to stay true to the skewed vision of a past version of myself.
It took me a long time to let go of that, and when I did, it was liberating.
And to my relief, that seemed to be what the students took the most interest in. That was when I saw heads perk up and all eyes focused forward.
4. It’s OK to Publicly Like Comic Books Now
Seriously, this one blew my mind. Back in 1997, if you liked comics, you kept that on lock-down. Not that it was the worst thing in the world, but it certainly came with a stigma.
Once I really wanted to read a new issue of The Avengers and couldn’t wait to get home. So I hid it behind a folder in the back of the cafeteria for fear someone would see me reading a comic book.
Fast forward twenty years to find me accidentally making a Fantastic Four reference and see like five kids get the reference and talk about how they love reading comics. Not only that but I had several extended in-depth conversations about video games with multiple students.
Where was this public acceptance of all things geek back in 1997?
5. There’s a Good Chance I’ll Be Going to My 20-Year Reunion
I have never wanted to attend a class reunion. I just never thought it was important. After all, that’s what Facebook is for, right? Besides, it was never like I felt connected to MDS as an alumnus.
I think speaking at Career Day may have changed that. For the first time in two decades I did feel connected. I think I still do.
However, I don’t want to stop at reunions. Mount de Sales gave me an amazingly strong foundation for life, and I want to help the next batch of Cavaliers build their foundations.